Conviviality: What It is How to Get Some

conviviality in a North Carolinian sunset

Conviviality. What an interesting – and for most of us – foreign word. Evidently, somewhere between 1660 and 1670, speakers of Late Latin used it to describe feasts and pastimes of living together, dining together.

Three hundred years later, Ivan Illich applied the concept of conviviality to modern peoples and their “tools.” He described societies by their relationships with each other and with their technologies:

Such a society, in which modern technologies serve politically interrelated individuals rather than managers, I will call ‘convivial.’ – Ivan Illich

Like Illich I prefer to think of conviviality as a special quality of living together. For me, it’s really about dwelling together, a sort of being and doing together. It’s about people picking apples in an orchard. Folks tilling soil in a community garden. Townspeople gathering on a common lawn to listen and dance to live music.

In many places, these convivial acts are fading away. They’re being replaced by solitary activity. Most of us commute to work alone. We tend to eat lunch and dinner alone. We work in absolute – or at best, quasi – solitude. We play video games and check Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Pinterest alone. We return home alone – or if fortunate enough – to an increasingly insular domestic bubble. We’re living in an unprecedented age of loneliness.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Perhaps I’ve adorned Pollyanna‘s glasses, but I believe we can reverse the rush toward entrenched loneliness.

Hipster coffeeshops are on the front lines in the battle against loneliness. Burgeoning numbers of cafes are saying no to laptops and wifi, and yes to in-person conversation.

Across the country and the world, parklets, open streets, ‘tactical urbanism‘ are spreading like wildfire. These activities and movements tend to usher in visions of reconnecting people, establishing a sense of place. For the first time in decades, people advocate for front porches, community front lawns, greater ‘walkability’ – the kind that has less to do with access to artisanal cheese shops and more to do with enhancing places’ social vibrancy.

All of these promising trends point the way toward deeper conviviality.

And it all begins with reconnection. Once we re-establish bonds, we’ll want to dwell together. We’ll begin making plans to mutually improve our lives. We’ll break bread together. Prepare meals together. Create music together. It’s up to us. If we commit ourselves to the task, we can and will do all these things together, and with grand conviviality.

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